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On-Gaku: Our Sound

The local film festival always brings in a fresh haul, so I got to see this deadpan comedy at a screening last weekend. On-Gaku is a movie about some high schoolers playing in a band. It’s also about really guttural power of rock music and the comedic timing. Japan Times has a heaping-praise of a review on this, which does way better job reviewing the movie than I will. But, at least I won’t spoil it for you.

As a piece of anime, it’s probably as un-anime as it gets. It’s refreshing in the way that American animation that poses as anime is the opposite of, I guess? The jokes, the cultural concepts, the timing, the setting, the plot is all extremely typical of Japanese high school comedies. In that context, On-Gaku is exactly what makes an anime not-an-anime, yet it is infinitely more Japanese than, say, non-anime stuff that poses like anime.

But those are just the baseline in which the humor springs from. On-Gaku is a gag anime. Its straight-face plot is merely the path in which we start at the head of the joke and eventually arrive at the butt of the joke. If we are to take the notion of the “gap” and apply that analogy liberally to the movie, then much of On-gaku is just the viewer traveling the gap chronologically with still animation to fill the void. I wonder if this is an artifact of being an adaptation of a manga.

They say this movie took seven years to complete. I believe it because it would be a funny gag, and appropriate of character. Animation masterpieces like Jin-Roh took seven years to complete, too. On-Gaku is not quite that, but it is a rarity, if not an unique thing, this day and age given the style of animation it uses.

It is also a movie that can be spoiled badly, so I recommend you avoid any spoilers if you want to see it eventually. Just be prepared to go through a lot of deadpan jokes. This is the most deadpan piece of anime I’ve seen, possibly ever.

Is it good? I think it’s worth your time. It is definitely extremely Japanese in the non-stereotypical way, so if you are into it for the weeb factor, maybe this movie is not up your alley. If you are into animation, Japanese high school, rock and roll, and open-minded takes on music, then there’s something here. Oh, if you like anime comedies, too.

PS. After going to CG7th Osaka I have a deeper appreciation of rock music, so this movie was timely.

IDOLM@STER Concepts: Tantou vs. Favorite

In the age of Stan and Waifu, there has long been many different ways to say “love” in all sorts of contexts; forget about the Alaskan words for snow (it’s an urban legend of sorts anyway). The way the Greeks did it is what I was weaned on but in this day and age there are more ways to say the same things than ever. And it has been always the case as far as history went.

It just dawned on me on a practical difference between what IM@S Ps say “tantou” versus which idols a producer may simply like. To some Ps, there are no differences between the two. To others, they are entirely different things. And from where I stand there are no wrong ways to go about it.

(“Tantou” here means “in charge of.” A producer is someone in a position of responsibility over a project. In this case, it’s an artist or idol. It is not unusual for IDOLM@STER content to put the producer in charge of a project in which artists of the agency is then selected to participate under said project. If you talk to Japanese producers, the proper way to refer to your cartoon waifu is tantou, and while you may or may not be a wretched twitter critter, we all know what you mean.)

There are however technical differences. One is the basic understanding that IDOLM@STER is a game franchise in which the player is the producer, and the idols the player selects to literally produce, well, are the idols the player produces. Sometimes this is literally every idol in the game, sometimes this is even more (not all idols are really in the games if you think about it), and sometimes it’s just whatever the P wants.

If we extrapolate it from selecting an idol in games to engagement in general, the idols I produce are just the ones I will go out of my way to learn more, to read up on, to research, to think about, and to create content for. After all, it is all we can do to literally “produce” a fictional character. This is pretty much the same way anyone stans anyone else, but maybe there are some differences. Maybe there will be another post for that.

The idols from IDOLM@STER that I like, however, I don’t necessarily produce. Maybe for those characters, I just enjoy the content and call it a day.

This is most evident when you participate in IDOLM@STER content like a big live event. Your favorite or tantou characters, odds are, will only take up a fraction of the full show. The rest of the time you probably are still engaged in the content, even if it isn’t your favorite or it has little relationship to the idols you produce. Sometimes this does mean you might take a seat. But also, a concert is a concert, a show is a show–it’s enjoyable to watch and be a part of.

So while I don’t produce Syoko, I still have a lot of respect for the Matsuda twins and an affinity to the brand of rock that is X Japan. This is why the Kurenai cover during CG7th Osaka was a really special experience personally, especially given the venue, the setup, and the way things played out. These kinds of considerations were the reasons why I was even there in the first place.

I have been following Cinderella Girls since my initial baptism by MOIW 2014. What struck me as odd now is that while many idols from 346P are appealing to me personally, I don’t want to produce any of them. It’s a big reason why I gave up playing Starlight Stage, and also it made the franchise easier to deal with when I treat it like this bag of content that pops out hit beats once in a while, at arm’s length.

I try to go to a show every year still, because I do enjoy this branch of IM@S and I still know something about them. Plus, I never stopped being a seiyuu otaku and IDOLM@STER content is still some of the best kind of seiyuu content out there. An IM@S show (and this applies even to all the other branches) are often elaborate productions. Cinderella Girls lives are the most elaborate of them all, both because of the success (popularity and commercially) of the franchise and the style of the content that is conducive of big, bright, shiny productions at a large scale. That the franchise shows have been dome-sized the past couple years actually plays to the strength of the content and the material. That is contrary to my normal preferences; to me, domes are a negative otherwise–you are far from the action, it’s very crowded, the acoustics and view often sucks, and the seats suck too usually.

On paper, maybe I can call myself, at best, a Miho/PCS producer, because at least I roll for them. I also find myself leaning towards Tsuda and Tanezaki a lot, at least as far as seiyuu affinities go among 346P cast members. It is a production of conveniences. But I produces way more back home in 765Pro, which hopefully my actions speak for themselves.

The Weather Girl, Weathering With You

Now that the United States is screening the latest Makoto Shinkai flick, we can dispense with the spoiler warnings and realize that thanks to the failed Oscar bid, Americans got nothing in return for waiting to watch Weathering With You, after the rest of the developed world have seen it. As I write this in late January, 2020, the movie has already been out since July 19, 2019, or half-year or so ago. Did you know how many times I’ve been to Japan since? Joke aside, we are long due this next installment of Shinkai’s usual bag of tricks.

As much as I find Shinkai’s love stories cloying at this point, I also see that his stories and ideas blossom most comfortably in that cloaking. Weathering With You did a serviceable job to get the audience to root for the two. The cast is colorful enough and they came together nicely. Shinjuku is wild on a rainy day, let along with rain magic (in context of the story) and even more rain magic (in context of Shinkai’s brand of animation). Add in some artistic urban decay, a funny car chase (uuuukeeeruuu), and Shinkai finally getting his anime directoral balls on (off? down?) in order to blow up Tokyo.

But that is not what makes Shikai’s movies resonate with me. Tenki no Ko wandered around the comfort zone a bit and gave us ambiguous characters with ambiguous internal struggles, and we were outside the comfort zone for much of the viewing. Perhaps it’s not by much, but we never knew exactly everything about Hina and Hodaka. Were they good people? They were just innocent young people. We watched over them with great interests, but will things turn out okay?

Which brings us to the ending. I loved this ending. I love it because, I think, it is saying something that I personally believe millennials need to hear. It is also admittedly a tad paternalistic. Maybe Shinkai is also being more Dad than ever (although he is still ways behind from Kamiyama in this regard). But, anyways, the message: in the end, it doesn’t really matter. Sure, the dramatic climax for Hina and Hodaka was how the couple decide to cope with Hina’s miko magic, in balance with their very wet problems. But it turns out just because Tokyo is underwater, life had no reason to stop going, so it does just keep going. And in truth those two things don’t really have anything to do with each other. Or rather, it is not the point at all if Hina survives or dies; it is the point that Hina and Hodaka live/lived as humans do. And to put a large exclamation point by sinking Tokyo is one great way to tap into that global warming energy for thematic empowerment.

I also think that’s exactly why a great message for people today. Pressure and anxiety about the future will do nothing to make things better in the future. Worrying will not add a day to your life. The challenges that face us as a society or race or as nations are always going to be daunting when we see them from an individual’s point of view. As individuals, only by making the right decisions and acting on them does anything moves forward at all–and we can’t do that unless our hearts are in the right place.

Weathering With You shows us the subtle difference between doing things out of love and doing things out of pressure, anxiety, fear, and stress. The characters themselves do these things at different points in the story, may it be Suga kicking Hodaka out to protect his legal status or pulling out a gun. Weathering With You makes a bunch of value statements, but it also shows that on the grand scale, humanity’s problems are fairly insignificant; that our day-to-day troubles are little in light of massive global shifts (like flooding tokyo), yet all the more, we can enjoy the little things. Well, instant meals and conbini food in Japan are no joke, so maybe it’s not as little as it seems?

In essence, it doesn’t matter if Hina can affect weather, or that Hodaka ran from his troubles, or that Natsumi aided a juvenile delinquent from police pursuit. The reaffirming message that focuses on doing well on each other is the funny way that we see the world upend itself, where we can finally divorce poetic justice from doing the right thing, because who knows what the future is really going to hold anyway? Isn’t doing the right thing its own reward? In a world going to hell in a handbasket, isn’t it nice to shrug off this chain of causality if we want to continue to encourage the next generation to do good; a generation of windmill-tilting idealists, working for ideals, not tit-for-tat, which is utmost good in a world with fewer tats left to work for. Your boomer relatives may have crap the bed, but it doesn’t really entitle the rest of us to behave a certain way, or any way. And that realization frees you (or in Hina’s case, Japanese ritual human sacrifices).

After the time-honored tradition of destroying Tokyo in anime, it is good to see Shinkai does it in a grand style. Between the lost generation and the cultural trauma of the post-war, does trauma really even matter anymore? I think that is the message, and to me this is the uplifting push and it exceeds the power of healing alone.

I’m rather endeared to the Japanese title of Weathering With You, which is simply Tenki no Ko (天気の子), similar to how Hina is referred to by randos online, looking at her web 2.0 vibe job listing. It also echos with me because the film was told from the perspective of Hodaka, the male lead, who in some ways does treat her simply like just another teenage love interest in another Shinkai love story. Yes, she’s that girl. Yes, he’s watching the world burn with her. There is no better way.

PS. Speaking of flying to Japan, some of you might have watched the Science Saru flick that is posed to open in the States in February, because it’s screening on ANA’s in-flight entertainment systems at least. In a lot of ways the same narrative language is used in that film too, so I think it would be fun to compare and contrast the two stories, both cloaked in a simple romantic shell.

PPS. Tenki no Ko seiyuu_joke is strong.

PPPS. I need to watch High School Fleet the Movie…

Seiyuu Guest Requests for North American Cons, 2019

Here is a quick and dirty (as they all are) translation on Anime Anime. I mean, click on the link there and read said translation. I will put a spin on the data below.

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Taiyou Con 2020: Wrap

This year my first anime con was literally the very first weekend of the year, down in the sunny Phoenix ‘burb of Mesa. This was the 10th Taiyou Con and very much like usual it was a low-key affair with a few guests that drew a small crowd, albeit some guests of great interest to me. Taiyou Con remained a small con, by most con standards, and that is to say I was able to take advantage of the size and laid-back nature of it all.

Somehow, Miyake Marie (Marietti) and Matsuzaki Rei (Reichama) came as a combo of sorts, from Pro-fit and Mausu, respectively. Each of them had their solo panels, an autograph session, and on Saturday they had a combined panel and combined autograph session. I mean, I guess this is because the con is run by a P, and I mean guess.

The rest of the con guests round out with two Japanese illustrators (courtesy of Sekai Project) Yukie and AmetoYuki; ProZD (who had to cancel half way into Friday due to a family emergency), and some VAs and cosers I don’t know. It all seems quite suitable for a con this size, other than somehow the seiyuu guests. Fact is far most cons of this type don’t get seiyuu guests, if even JP guests.

As far as Taiyou Con’s nuts and bolts go, it hasn’t changed much since I last attended in 2017. I’ll cover the main difference this year and go straight to the guest content and travelogue stuff.

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